Ringmaster Dhoni encircles England
It was a nice, warm day in the middle of what had now begun to look autumn in England. The pitch was slow and low, much like the Test in July. To add to its woes from the Test, Trent Bridge this time turned. Around the end of the first innings, the English supporters began to trickle out and James Anderson was booed, just in case you felt India weren't at home.
England were meek against spin, the conditions came gift-wrapped, but India need to be credited for having bounced back from the battering in Tests. Even on the day India had to come back from having made the wrong decision after winning the toss. MS Dhoni said he was surprised the pitch turned so much, and that it didn't cost India much because England had only one spinner.
India were switched on even before England got hypnotised by the concentric circles the spinners drew around them. They had been attacked by Alex Hales in the second ODI, in Cardiff, but here they suffocated him in the first part of his innings. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who swings the ball both ways, kept bringing the ball in towards Hales' pads. You could see Hales was itchy. The first time Hales really got any room to play was in the fifth over. He got a single then that took him to 3 off nine balls. In the next over, Hales manufactured two cover drives from just outside off by staying stuck on the leg stump. To those kind of shots, you say, well played, and move on.
Yet Alastair Cook kept riding his luck, Hales batted well and Mohit Sharma got injured. Even in the first over of spin, Hales lofted R Ashwin over mid-off for four. And then one ball turned. From round the wicket, against the angle. Once it starts turning, Dhoni and India become a completely different team. Those concentric circles converge in no time. And when conditions are such, Dhoni finds another legitimate bowler in Suresh Raina. He was introduced early in this match because of Mohit's injury but once Hales perished trying to sweep him, India and Dhoni were all over England.
India's comfort then, and England's desperation, didn't quite befit a start of 82 for 1 in 18 overs. Then again such is India's confidence in these conditions. When you know the batsmen are not going to take you on, there is no need to send the field back. Dhoni continued to attack, and India's fielders in the ring gave nothing away. Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane, Raina, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan are a set of fielders as good as any in limited-overs cricket. Mohit, back on the field, even ran out Ian Bell with a direct hit.
"I was surprised by how much it turned," Dhoni said. "That really brought our spinners into the game. I felt Raina's spell was crucial because Mohit got injured and we were not really sure whether he would come back and bowl the seven overs he had to bowl. So I had to get those seven overs from the part-timers. I am happy that Raina and Rayudu contributed more than the seven overs and there was less pressure on me."
Raina's entry into the team has not only brought some much-needed energy, it has also given India a good slips fielder. He is steadier in stance than other youngsters, and he reacts better than other youngsters. The catch he took low to his right to send back Ben Stokes back came in for much praise. It is a shame Raina hasn't the runs in Test cricket, or India would be closer to solving one of their slips problems.
"It is a fantastic performance by the whole team," Dhoni said. "What was brilliant, apart from the bowling, was the fielding also. Bell's wicket at that point of time was very crucial. Raina's catch in the slips. Those are the things that really helps you as a team."
It also helps that Dhoni knows his angles. His in-and-out fields for spinners are immaculate. Nobody gets the straight short midwicket quite as right as he does. Many a time England batsmen tapped floated half-volleys from spinners to that man whereas India kept taking easy singles to long-on and long-off off similar deliveries.
And Dhoni standing up to the stumps is a completely different wicketkeeper. Standing back he tends to not go for catches between himself and first slip, but you rarely see him miss catches or stumpings off spinners. He had a hand in all of the first four dismissals. The best of those was a catch and a stumping down the leg side when Ambati Rayudu speared one past Cook. Just like that, only one boundary arrives in close to 16 overs, wickets fall, England are only surviving during the Powerplay, and India have a sub-par total to chase.
How India will wish Dhoni could stand up to all the bowlers. Some magic happens when he does so. Dhoni also knows playing on turning tracks against a side as ordinary against spin as England is not the right measure of his ODI side. "We will still need a bit more time," Dhoni said. "It is not an easy thing to do. We have to judge people under different scenarios, under pressure what they do, if they are supposed to play freely and how they do play.
"So overall, it looks like a good team: if you look at the batting order itself, it is a fantastic one. If Rohit [Sharma] gets fit, at the top of the order or if he is batting in the middle, it is looking good. But still there are a few areas there is a still a bit of concern: bowling still we need to work on wickets where there is no turn and spinners are not that effective. If you don't take wickets in the middle overs that really puts a lot of pressure on the bowlers."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo